This past year has been one filled with many, unpleasant surprises for Valerie Brosdal, who learned in August that she had been diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer.
"That just shook our world," Valerie said. "Things were really dark there for about a month."
The 53-year-old woman from Pleasanton, however, would prefer to focus on the one, very nice surprise that she says "just touches my heart" in the middle of her battle against the disease.
In an effort to lift her spirits a little bit, Valerie's husband, Ralph Kapostins, decided to take her to get a pedicure. When it came to choosing a color, Valerie opted for her favorite: Purple.
That's when Ralph decided to get in on the action.
"He said he'd do his toes purple, as well," Valerie recalls "just to make me smile."
"It seemed to work," Ralph adds. "She was laughing pretty good there."
It was a laugh Valerie and Ralph wanted to share with their friends, so Ralph posted a picture of their purple toes on Facebook. He figured that would be the end of it.
Suddenly, friends started painting their toes purple and posting the photos for Valerie to see in the hopes of making her smile. It worked. "The things people are willing to surprises me," Valerie says.
One friend in particular, Susan Woolf, began to spread the world through social media and The Purple Toes Campaign, Smiles for Val, was born. Strangers from around the country, and the world, began to paint their toes purple, take pictures, and send them to Valerie.
Ralph estimates that so far some 400 people have joined in with an incredible variety of pictures: some sending in an image of just their own toes, others sending in group shots with family members and co-workers.
More than a few people have submitted pictures of their dogs and cats wearing purple nail polish. There is even one horse.
Still more have posted snapshots of their toes next to a photograph of a loved one who has died from lung cancer.
Each one touches Valerie and Ralph. "It just kind of rocks where I am at to see that," Ralph says, holding back tears.
The campaign has even begun to raise money for lung cancer research. So far the Purple Toes Campaign has brought in more than $12,000 for the Bonnie Addario Lung Cancer Foundation.
Valerie and Ralph are committed to not just aiding in cancer research, but spreading the word about the value of early detection of lung cancer, particularly in people who have never smoked, like Valerie.
"It took so long find my cancer," Valerie says, "and no one should get that diagnosis."